Exhibition: Phulkari – The Embroidered Textiles of Punjab from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection

Exhibition dates: 12 March – 9 July 2017

Discover the beauty and cultural significance of phulkari, ornately embroidered textiles from Punjab, a region straddling Pakistan and India. In addition to stunning examples from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection, this exhibition features traditional phulkaris from the museum’s collection and high-fashion ensembles by one of India’s leading designers, Manish Malhotra.

Phulkari, meaning ‘flower work’, is a labour-intensive textile made of vibrant silk embroidery on a plain-woven cotton cloth. Deeply rooted in Punjabi life before the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan (which split the Punjab region), this tradition has become a powerful symbol of Punjabi cultural identity.

Usually worn by women as large shawls on special occasions, phulkaris were also made as blankets or as furniture covers or hangings. Women of many religious groups – Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs (who consider the Punjab their holy land) – stitched phulkaris, with young girls learning needlework from older female relatives and friends. They often created the embroideries for their dowry, which they brought to their new homes when they married.

Some phulkaris depict animals and village scenes, while others display complex geometric patterns in bold colors conveying good fortune and social status. Whether figurative or geometric, all are rich in symbolism: after the 1947 partition, phulkari textiles became an important symbol for the new nation of Pakistan.

Over the past half century, phulkari techniques and patterns have experienced a revival, especially as a commercial art. As an emblem of pre-partition village life, phulkaris have been celebrated in popular music and videos. More recently, this folk tradition has entered the realm of high fashion through designers such as Manish Malhotra, who recently created a phulkari-based couture collection.

For more information, visit the website of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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Exhibition: Art of the Zo – Textiles from Myanmar, India and Bangladesh

Philadelphia Museum of Art - Art of the Zo

Exhibition dates: 11 November 2015 – 20 March 2016

For readers based in the US, there’s still nearly a month left to see this stunning-looking show in Philadelphia.

This exhibition offers a look at beautiful woven textiles of the Zo people of Myanmar, India and Bangladesh. It focuses on traditional weavings worn for daily life and ceremonial occasions, such as weddings, funerals and feasts of merit. The Zo consider weaving to be the highest form of art. They believe their textiles confer status to the weaver and document his or her status in this life and the afterlife. ‘Art of the Zo’ presents how these woven treasures are made and worn, and features twentieth-century examples from specific locality and cultural divisions.

A talented Zo weaver is prized by her community for her skills. Using the most basic of looms, she can create textiles that range from unpatterned indigo-dyed cloth and simple, colourful stripes to complex weaves that could be mistaken for embroidery. Although most Zo have adopted Burmese and Western attire, some embrace traditional weaving techniques in an effort to preserve their culture. This exhibition draws from the Philadelphia Museum’s collection of Zo textiles and loans from Barbara and David Fraser, authors of Mantles of Merit: Chin Textiles from Myanmar, India, and Bangladesh (2005).

In addition to tunics, wrap skirts, mantles, loincloths, capes and blankets, the exhibition includes a loom with a partially woven cloth next to a finished example from the museum’s collection. A video presentation, photographic details of selected works, and graphics of specific weave structures further demonstrate the virtuosic skill of Zo weavers.

For more information, visit the website of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, USA.